a girl playing on monkey barsCould getting children to engage in active play be as simple as giving them buckets and bales of hay? Yes, say researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne, Australia who conducted a study on children’s playground activities. They found that when children had access to common household objects, they played more energetically and moved more than children with traditional playground equipment. These results could help shape the discussion surrounding how to raise healthy children.

The researchers observed children playing in a school playground setting. At a newly-built school, Emmaus Catholic Primary School, in Ballarat, Victoria, they recorded behaviors of 120 children aged five to twelve. The students at Emmaus were supplied with play objects like buckets, pipes, exercise mats, and swimming pool noodles. The researchers compared the playtime activities of Emmaus’ students with those of students at a school that had a traditional playground consisting of a slide and monkey bars.

When the students had access to the new play objects, sedentary behavior (defined as sitting or standing on the playground) decreased from 61.5% of children to just 30.5% during the study. The students also took an average of 13 more steps per minute and they played more intensively compared to the students on the traditional playground.

The results indicate that traditional playgrounds may be stifling creativity among children. Providing kids with everyday objects may improve social and problem solving skills in addition to increasing the quality and quantity of physical activity.

The good news is that supplying kids with new “toys” is as simple as giving them a crate or a pool noodle.

“Conventional playgrounds are designed by adults—they don’t actually take into consideration how the children want to play. At a time when childhood obesity is growing and playgrounds are shrinking, we need a creative approach to stimulate physical activity among children,” explained Dr. Brendon Hyndman, lead researcher.

This research is published in the journal BMC Public Health.

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